Critic at large: Stalwart Kennedy used influence for good of all
In 1970 I had a brief relationship with the daughter of a Kennedy intimate. One day she related a story as told to her by her father.
Shortly after Bobby’s assassination, Rose, the Kennedy matriarch, came to him for a visit. When they got around to talking about Ted, the sole surviving Kennedy brother, Rose expressed hope that her Teddy would pick up the mantle and one day run for president.
“But Rose,” the friend said, “Do you want another son dead?”
“But just think,” Rose was quoted as responding. “I will have had three sons who ran for president of the United States.”
We know now that if true, that hope vanished after Chappaquiddick. If Ted Kennedy had perished that night, his name would live in infamy. Even now, in some quarters, he is demonized as a lecherous rake and womanizer. His reputation was already soiled by a cheating scandal at Harvard, and if you desire to besmirch the name of Ted Kennedy, you may cite other instances of alleged debauchery.
But even his detractors know this is not the whole truth.
The truth, as I see it, is that, flaws and all, Ted Kennedy turned out to be a great senator, and certainly, the greatest of all the Kennedys. He deserves to be regarded as a flawed hero and a great American, who, with his wealth and power, could have dogged it. If his name and wealth enabled him to elude justice in the Chappaquiddick scandal, these attributes also gave him the power to stand on his own, impervious to political scandal or influential lobbyists, even if he grew familiar with the political game.
He used his power for the good of all Americans, and it seemed to me that his political and moral quest was unselfish.
Unlike the wealthy Bushes or Clintons, you don’t hear reports of Ted Kennedy soaking up loot for speaking engagements. Whether it was Civil Rights legislation, our unfortunate debacle in Vietnam, the shameful involvement in Iraq, or the need for universal health insurance, he cared and fought for what he thought was right. He was aligned with a moral cause.
“Ted Kennedy would have been a leader, an outstanding senator, at any period in the nation’s history,” said one historian.
“He did his homework,” said one senate colleague, and in the process, he earned the respect and friendship of Republicans like John Warner and the feisty Orin Hatch.
“This man works as hard as anyone. When he knows his subject, he really knows it. He listens, he learns,” said Warner.
The New York Times obituary noted that Kennedy “built federal support for community health care centers, increased cancer research financing and helped create the Meals on Wheels program. He was a major proponent of a health and nutrition program for pregnant women and infants.”
He was indeed “the last lion of the senate.” Even George W. Bush called Kennedy “a fabulous United States senator. When he’s against you, it’s tough. When he’s with you, it is a great experience.”
Lucky for us that Rose Kennedy did not get her wish. Instead, she got a son who matured and fought adversity, emerging as one of the great senators in our relatively short history, and certainly the greatest senator of our time.
Reach Dan DiNicola at firstname.lastname@example.org.